The political consulting/data firm Cambridge Analytica—whose services were employed by the Trump campaign in 2016 and which has long-standing connections to Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon—has been in the soup in recent days over revelations that it took Facebook data involving 50 million users without authorization and that CEO Alexander Nix and other top officials were caught on tape boasting about their willingness to use bribes, blackmail, and secretly distributed propaganda to win elections.
It’s a pretty hot soup, and it’s getting hotter: The Guardian is now reporting that multiple Cambridge Analytica employees say Nix and other executives instructed them to search what they believed to be a file of stolen emails for “incriminating” information about the opponent of a client in the 2015 Nigerian presidential election. The firm was working to secure the re-election of Goodluck Jonathan his race against Muhammadu Buhari, and the Guardian reports that at one point during the campaign Israeli subcontractors brought what appeared to be stolen data involving Buhari to Cambridge Analytica’s offices in London:
The Guardian and Observer has been told the Israelis brought a laptop from their office in Tel Aviv and handed employees a USB stick containing what they believed were hacked personal emails.
Sources said Nix, who was suspended on Tuesday, and other senior directors told staff to search for incriminating material that could be used to damage opposition candidates, including Buhari. … One member of the campaign team told the Guardian and Observer that the material they believed had been hacked included Buhari’s medical records. “I’m 99% sure of that. Or if they didn’t have his medical records they at least had emails that referred to what was going on.”
The Guardian’s piece does not make clear whether any employees followed Nix’s instructions; Jonathan ultimately lost his race. Cambridge Analytica’s parent company “denied taking possession of or using hacked or stolen personal information,” the Guardian writes.
To state the obvious, the data firm’s alleged willingness to exploit illegally obtained emails seems like it may have some relevance to a certain other election in which its client (Donald Trump—I’m talking about Donald Trump) benefitted from the distribution of illegally obtained emails. And if you’ll recall, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos was reportedly told about Russian email “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in April 2016, while one of the Russians involved in the infamous June 2016 meeting with Trump’s top aides—which also involved alleged “dirt” on Clinton—has been accused in the past of orchestrating hacking attacks. Nix, for his part, has admitted that he contacted WikiLeaks in June 2016 to ask if it would share the Clinton-related emails it ultimately released the next month. (To be clear, this would have been after reports of their existence began appearing in the press, and he claims his offer was rejected.)
Will any of these suggestive facts ever coalesce into a clear picture of “collusion” or criminal malfeasance? No one knows! And that’s what makes it fun.